The sun has almost crept far enough south to come in my office windows. It’s touching the bricks of the sloped sill, and soon it will ease in, warming the (long-ignored) cat bed under Athena’s basking platform. We’re not quite a month since the summer solstice, and the mornings are coming later and later, for which I’m quite appreciative.
Summer, however, has not begun to fade. There’s a saying about early January: The days begin to lengthen and the cold begins to strengthen. That also applies to summer, as heat builds into the Northern Hemisphere. These are the days you can hear corn growing in the quiet, hot nights. Cicadas sing loudly from mid-morning until well after dark, the voice of high summer. The birds chorus to welcome the dawn, then retire, leaving the cicadas alone on the stage. Mississippi kites ride the thermals, and a few doves visit the bird bath, but most of the smaller birds have scattered to their summer haunts.
Venture out before the sun rises, and the breeze teases, not enough to stir the green leaves on the trees or the flags, not yet. The morning star shines down on the last hint of the old moon. Comet NEOWISE has left the morning sky for the evenings, but Venus remains, the day star. In another few weeks, Sirius will rise before dawn, the official sign of the Dog Days of summer and the onset of the Nile floods.
This is the quiet time in the garden. The roses and other spring blooming plants rest, husbanding their resources, basking (or burning) in the high sun. The lawn grass grows slowly if at all, a cool-season fescue overtaxed by bright sunlight and hundred degree heat. Short-lived bursts of color, the flowers of high summer explode, then fade within days, replaced by others. Berries have formed on the hawthorn and holly, and hips on the “old roses,” but they lack the flush of color that heralds autumn. The colors of the season are green and brown.
The neighborhood wildlife, at least the four-footed sort, lapses into nocturnal life. Foxes, house cats, skunks all hide from the midday sun. Squirrels don’t, but no one has accused squirrels of being smart. Neither do humans, and the same caveat applies, especially to people who go jogging in 108 F heat.
Storms roll down in the night, exploding over the Rocky Mountains to the west and north and flowing down across the High Plains. The Southwest Monsoon has arrived, with lightning and roars of thunder, pounding rain that passes in the darkness, leaving traces in the rain-gauge and small puddles on the road.
The air, oddly for the season, smells of moisture and hydrocarbons. There’s a taste of the Gulf Coast oil patch in the morning air. Some days, stepping outside is to enter Houston, although the stifling humidity is only stifling to the desert-touched. It’s not the unbreathable-feeling wet wool blanket of the inland Gulf airmasses. Our high heat comes with a desert oven, a blast-furnace wind that withers plants and people as you watch, sucking out any moisture left unattended. Not this year. We’ve kept a southerly fetch aloft with a westerly lower-level flow, hot but more humid. The plants are grateful at least.
But the sun moves south. Soon crickets will replace cicadas. The evenings will shorten as much as the mornings. The Grey Norther will roll down from Alberta, breaking summer’s back even though heat will linger into October. The roses will regain their second wind in the cool of autumn, growing and blooming once more. The fast-growing maize will turn golden brittle, harvest-ready as the wheat enters the ground to begin growing before the snow comes.
Nothing seems certain save the turning of the year, some times.